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Steven Gerber: Symphony No. 1; Viola Concerto; Triple Overture; Dirge and Awakening
Steven R. Gerber, Thomas Sanderling, Russian Philharmonic Orchestra
Steven Gerber: Symphony No. 1; Viola Concerto; Triple Overture; Dirge and Awakening
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (8) - Disc #1


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CD Reviews

Symphony no.1
George Knox | berwyn, pa United States | 03/16/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

"It is such a pleasure to get to know another Classical music CD by Steven R. Gerber. His symphony #1 is played by the Russian Philharmonic. This is an excellent choice since the symphony seems to start just where Tchaikovsky's Pathetique leaves off. You are hanging over the precipice of the greatest plunge into sorrow a really Russian orchestra can bring about. The range of the orchestra expands and becomes more and more gripping. The build up of tension and feeling is tremendous. Later on the composer uses some of the suspended motion minimalism of Arvo Paart or Gorecki to freeze time and look again at things closely. Solo passages for woodwind or string instruments create beautiful details that enhance this impression. The second movement is a reaction against the first. It jumps away with the jaggedness of a Stravinsky dancer. But then the central portion of the movement and the conclusion are almost completely stationary, as if to say that the huge sorrowful build up of the first movement cannot just be shaken off by will-power or a wild change of mood. A sort of emotional story line like this helps me explain the biggest success of the symphony, how it really culminates in the finale. Something of the wild dance thrusts of the second movement comes back here, but now not in the rogue, solo clarinet, but differently, in the massed strings and brass that had carried the huge grief of the opening. The big gesture of the second movement is slowed down, and the opening one of the first movement is speeded up as the two combine. They combine to create an amazing event that seems to me an extended spasm in the orchestra, or better, a prolonged shudder. The symphony ends calmly with a deep germinating, Wagner-type feeling in the bass that opens out to a spacious atmosphere a little like Sibelius. It is not the calm of resolution, certainly not the calm of exhaustion, but maybe the tingly stillness that comes from having survived something. I think that the great orchestra spasm that propels the last movement is something like the shudder of survival. This symphony is new and original and contemporary, not confined by old-fashioned harmony, but at the same time it seems fully fitting and connected with the great orchestral music of a hundred years ago or more. The musicians are wonderful, and I believe it when the booklet says the conductor is someone Shostakovich felt he could trust."
Through a glass, darkly.
N. Daniele Pietro | Milano, MI Italy | 03/02/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

"On the evidence of this typically entreprising Chandos release Steven R.Gerber (Washington DC, 1948 ) is one of the most interesting new voices in symphonic music to have come my way in quite a while. In the beginning I was a bit skeptical, as the name was completely unknown, and some of the little info I could find were not exactly promising (I'm sorry, but to have been a Milton Babbitt student is not a plus, in my view). But then my penchant for musical adventures took over, confiding in Chandos' usually high artistic/technical standard and..with a little help from Chandos' art director: I know it's silly, but I found their artwork for this release highly enticing. Indeed, lately Chandos covers are uniformly marvelous. Some people may find them over-the-top, even gaudy, but I think they represent a nicely updated approach to the "colorful" 50's-60's tradition (think about RCA's Living Stereo covers) and they are a good counterbalance to the dry, cooler-than-thou look of, say, Nonesuch (beautiful at first, but you're not likely to look at them twice). One has to buy cd's for the music, of course, but a nice cover helps, doesn't it? Trying to describe somebody's music is always very hard, especially about a new composer, so I apologize in advance if I'll resort to resort to comparisons with other composers' styles. I don't want to diminish Gerber's individuality as a composer,though. Actually the more I listen to this cd the more I find this composer has a voice of his own. First of all this is not music for those who think that "dark" and "serious" are bad words: the overall impression is of music made of heavy, utterly dramatic gestures. Resorting to a chromatic parallel, I would say it's music colored in black, silver and metal blue. Other reviewers have rightly underlined the Russian connection in Gerber's music, but if Shostakovich's shadow (minus the bitter irony) surely hovers, there are an integrated eclecticism and a bold rhetoric manner which are entirely American. Not that refinement is lacking : despite the big gestures the orchestration is finely multi-layered, un-bulky. It's music that gave me a strong "cinematic" feeling. As Gerber himself points out in the booklet, he aims to write abstractly, and he succeeds, but my personal response to the music was one made of broad, dark vistas, of something dramatic going on. I used the word "cinematic" intentionally. In the 3-movement Symphony (the best piece, in my opinion) there are passages recalling Bernard Herrmann's most brooding moments and others where John Barry's "flowing" string writing is in the background. There are also moments, like the beginning of the last movement, where I found a nice touch of Minimalist rarefaction. Despite the general tragic tone, I found it finally uplifting, like life's troubled achievements. Dirge and Awakening is more a grandly styled overture than a symphonic poem, featuring a central crescendo-cum-march that wouldn't be out of place in a Miklos Rozsa score. Similar in approach and even more satisfying is the Triple Overture, where I found particularly interesting the way Gerber treats the three solo instruments (piano, violin and cello) in order to form an unified voice, almost a composite instrument interacting with the full orchestra. This piece's forward momentum shows off well Gerber's preference for majestically implacable ostinato rythms, usually carriedby the strings with a pounding percussion base. I enjoyed the Viola Concerto less, not because the music isn't good, but because L.A.Tomter's viola tone isn't really suited to my taste. His prowess is not in question, but his actual sound often seems grating. The performances are otherwise excellent: everybody involved seems to be really in touch the the music, and the unknown (to me) Russian orchestra really comes out well. I only find astonishing that this music does not get more performances by major American orchestras: I acknowledge that its mood is somewhat monolithic and the overall effect is not that of harmless, feel-good music, but I'm not so sure that all the public wants to hear is easy-listening classical, preferably with pointless ethnic influences, pseudo-mystical pretensions and with wacky names for each movement (Richard Danielpour comes to my mind). The Russian-made recordings are fully up to Chandos' usual high standards."
Big Gestures and a Dark Sound
Thomas F. Bertonneau | Oswego, NY United States | 10/01/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Steven Gerber's music will remind listeners of three or four distinct influences while nevertheless being a creature on its own with a recognizable profile. It belongs, first of all, the the contemporary return to a more or less tonal orientation; it inherits a concern with dense polyphonic structures from Hindemith, Bartok, and even Schoenberg; and it keeps a tap-root in the spiritual anxiety of Shostakovich. A number of reviewers have remarked on what they call the Russian spirit of this music, played on the present recorded program by a Russian orchestra under a Russian conductor. Yet even while Gerber wanders in the same angst-ridden dimensions as, say, Shostakovich, or Schnittke, or Tishchenko (in his gloomy moods), the music has an American rather than a Russian sound. The Symphony is a good example of this. Imagine a post-modern development of William Schuman's most abyssal scores (the Eighth Symphony, say, or the middle section of In Praise of Shahn); leaven Schuman's chromaticism just a bit, and you'll have some idea of Gerber's musical vocabulary. Yet there are also moments where Reich's minimalism seems to hover in the background. Gerber composes using note-sequences made up from names, his own and those of musician-friends. The listener is not aware of the procedures as such, however, but of autonomous movements that develop basic material ingeniously and with an awareness of orchestral resources. The Symphony ends with a chorale (but not a triumphant one) in the brass, colored especially by tuba and trombones. The Viola Concerto is slightly less dark than the Symphony. The Dirge and Awakening moves from darkness, not quite into the light, but into a premonition of the dawn. The Triple Overture is a concerto in one movement for violin, viola, and piano, with orchestra, taking its form as a set of variations, but also corresponding to the outlines of a sonata. Gerber is a serious composer with his own voice. Anyone with an interest in current American works for orchestra should investigate his music."